Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb

cover art for Fool's Fate, featuring a black dragon and a red dragon battling on the edge of a glacier. The main illustration is bordered in blue with smaller portraits at each corner.
Oh, my heart. How it hurts.

I'll warn you: this final volume of the Tawny Man Trilogy (which began with FOOL'S ERRAND and THE GOLDEN FOOL), opens somewhat on the slow side. In fact, it's so slow that I began to worry. Sometime over the last seven years, I'd forgotten a surprising amount of the plot1, and the little I did remember didn't seem to fit with what I was reading in the here and now.

I suppose that's the trouble with marathon reading sessions. Back in the day, I was so desperate to see how FOOL'S FATE ended that I mainlined the thing in no time flat. Pacing is less of an issue when you read something that quickly.

In the here and now, though, I was scared. It didn't seem like there'd be enough narrative space for everything to happen.

I was dead wrong. FOOL'S FATE does take a little while to get going, but once it's on its way everything fits together beautifully. And it is so fucking good..

As is always the case with Hobb, most of the appeal comes down to the characters. FOOL'S FATE gives everyone a chance to be awesome, either all by their lonesome or alongside the people they're closest to. There's a fair amount of action, sure (you can maybe guess from the cover that there's a dragon battle), but the epic, world-shaking struggle is never really the point.

Hobb's books aren't so much about people changing the world as they are about the effect world-changing action has on the people who do it. It's a messy process full of sacrifice and heartache and even some pure, unbridled joy. The story lies in how the characters deal with these challenges along the way, how they relate to one another during difficult times, and how they navigate their ever-shifting relationships.

And if they save the world at the end2, well, that's great too.

Hobb's flare for foreshadowing pays off in a big way as all the little details she introduced throughout the first two books take on new meaning. The six books prior to this trilogy are hardly old bones, either. As I mentioned when I reviewed SHIP OF DESTINY, all Hobb's series echo one another to a certain extent. In this, which was for several years the final book, everything comes home to roost. We see again how the liveships relate not only to the stone dragons from ASSASSIN'S QUEST but also to one character's ultimate fate--and of course, the flesh-and-blood dragons are at the core of it3. The parallels between Kennit, Paragon, and Fitz become much clearer, and feed back into the Forged folks from the Farseer Trilogy in an endless loop of interrelated awesome (and also pain). A few tidbits that were almost extraneous to the Liveship Traders Trilogy turn out to have great significance to the Tawny Man. You can probably read any of the trilogies separately, but trust me when I say you're missing out if you do so. Half the joy of Hobb's work is in spotting how it all fits together. Nothing happens in a vaccum.

And it all comes together oh-so beautifully. Even after the main action (which: the bit with the dragons) is over and done, the story keeps rolling along, churning out new challenges and reinforcing--or breaking down--what's come before.

The last hundred or so pages affected me deeply. I cried, y'all. I cried a lot.

Sometimes I cried because I was so upset (see: heartache).

Sometimes I cried because I was so happy (see: pure, unbridled joy).

Sometimes I cried because I was suffused with joy right now, but I couldn't help but recall the folks who'd been tweeting about the pain they suffered at the end of the forthcoming FOOL'S ASSASSIN. This mix of happiness and fear for the characters left me desperate to whip through the Rain Wilds Chronicles4 and dive straight into the new book in the hope that everyone on the Internet had lied to me and everything was going to be perfectly okay.

Yeah. As if that was ever gonna happen.

Oh, friends, I'm beyond glad I reread these books this year. Part of me wishes it had taken me a bit less time to return to them, though I suppose it was all to the good in the end. I love them enough that I think of them often, but I'd still managed to forget large chunks. (Like the ice city! I couldn't remember anything that happened in the ice city!) I had an absolute blast filling in the gaps in my memory and reconnecting with beloved characters along the way.

Let's end off with a few observations that don't quite fit into the core of this review:

First, I realize I neglected to say anything about Thick when I discussed FOOL'S ERRAND and THE GOLDEN FOOL. Thick is a powerful Skill-user who has what I assume is Down Syndrome. I can't recall ever having met another fantasy character with Down Syndrome, and I appreciate how Hobb deals both with the other characters' initial prejudice towards him and their eventual acceptance of him. It's not instantaneous, and not everyone comes off in a good light, but they slowly come to see Thick as a person for whom the world works differently. Hobb doesn't render him a Sainted Disabled Person, either. Thick can be thoughtful and he can be a jackass, just like anyone else with depth and personality.

Second, the series as a whole acknowledges that deep love needn't always involve a sexual or romantic relationship. It's possible to have a strong, loving bond with someone without sleeping with them or being in love with them. Likewise, the people you sleep with don't always have to mean the world to you--and that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it might not be what you long for. I love it when fiction tackles these sorts of issues.

Third, many of the men in Hobb's books are liable to spout patriarchal crap--but the moment they do, the women in their lives shoot them down. The men don't always listen (the men in the Liveship Traders Trilogy are particularly bad about this, often with horrific results), but the women are always crystal clear. In FOOL'S FATE, for example, Fitz starts rambling on about how Burrich took Molly from him and he's always had mixed feelings about taking her back. Molly immediately retorts that nobody took anybody else (or if anything, she was the one who did the taking), and nobody's going to take anybody else in the future, because that's not how it works.

I really, really like Molly. Don't you for one second think that me shipping Fitz and Kettricken means I dislike Molly.

There. I think I'm done.

I cannot possibly recommend these three trilogies highly enough. Start with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE and work you way forward, please. I think you'll be glad you did.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read FOOL'S FATE, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above, or if you sign up for an Audible trial.

  1. For the record--and I'll write a proper post about this somewhere down the line--I am absolutely in favour of forgetting fiction. Hell, I try to forget things between readings, since it keeps the element of surprise in the mix. Still, I'm rather shocked at how much I'd forgotten from these three trilogies. I suppose it's down to them being chunksters. It's always harder to keep a complete chunkster in your head simply because there's more of it. Multiply it by nine, add seven years, and you've got a recipe for forgetfulness.

  2. There are five more published books with another two to come, so I doubt I'm spoiling anything when I tell you the world doesn't end immediately. (FOOL'S FATE is clearly an after-the-fact account, too.) Whether or not they actually save it for good, though, I'll let you discover for yourself.

  3. Okay, this is kind of a spoiler, but every one of the Realm of the Elderlings trilogies (or quartets) to date has ended with DRAGONS. I'm sure I'm not the only one who hopes the Fitz and the Fool Trilogy will also work DRAGONS into the final book.

  4. I decided not to review the Rain Wilds Chronicles, partly because I ran out of time (I tried to schedule these Robin Hobb reviews to end before the release of FOOL'S ASSASSIN) and partly because I had fewer feels about them since they were new-to-me. I ultimately loved them, though, and missed all the characters once I'd finished BLOOD OF DRAGONS.

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